Book Nerd Interview
J. Anderson Coats owns 194 books about the middle ages. This doesn’t seem like very many unless you consider the fact that she’s never had a real job.
Jillian grew up in a houseful of books alongside two cats and an older brother. Her mother, a librarian, exposed her to the beauty and diversity of the written word. Her father, a scientist, taught her to question it. Both of them encouraged her to write, even when her stories were written in crayon and featured nothing but ponies.
At age thirteen, Jillian finished her first novel. It was pretty bad, but fortunately no one told her that. By the time she graduated from high school, she’d written six other novels, including one massive 500,000-word doorstop book with a sweeping, complicated plot and way too many characters. None of these books was very good, but she loved every single one and learned something new with each.
Jillian studied history at Bryn Mawr College, where she graduated magna cum laude with departmental honors. She also holds a master’s degree in library and information science from Drexel University and a master’s degree in history from the University of Washington. She loves the smell of old books, and she’d set up camp in the archives if they didn’t keep locking the door at night.
Currently, Jillian lives in the Pacific northwest in a hundred-year-old house with her husband, teenage son, and a cat with thumbs.
J. Anderson Coats
The Wicked and the Just
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 17 April 2012
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think I’ve ever not been a writer. I scribbled stories everywhere in crayon when I was a child. I wrote my first book before I lost my first tooth. My second-grade teacher shepherded twenty-nine seven-year-olds through the publication process, from idea to editing to cover design. The result was twelve pages, handwritten, meticulously illustrated, complete with a copyright date and a colophon. I was hooked!
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Storytelling is how we make sense of the world, both on a small and large scale. Fiction gives us the space to talk about things that might otherwise be taboo or too close to home or problematic. It lets us have conversations across space and time; between reader and writer, real and fictional, individual and society. Stories give us a common vocabulary of joy and betrayal and suffering and redemption that is part of ourselves and yet somehow bigger than ourselves. Stories let us know we’re not alone.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
When I was just starting out, I learned this from Elizabeth Bear, a fantasy writer I admire very much: “Learn to write this book.” There’s no one way to write a book, and every book is going to need something different. Be openminded and let the needs of each book guide how you write it. Very often your backbrain will surprise you with the answer you need without you having to think it up.
In your new book; The Wicked and the Just, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it and why they should read your novel?
The Wicked and the Just takes place in 1293-1294 in north Wales, ten years into English rule. Cecily is an unwilling transplant to the English walled town of Caernarvon, and she’d like nothing better than to go home. Gwenhwyfar, a Welsh servant in Cecily’s new house, would like nothing better than to see all the English go home. The ruling English impose harsh restrictions and taxation on the Welsh, and conditions in the countryside are growing desperate. The rumors of rebellion might be Gwenhwyfar’s only salvation – and the last thing Cecily ever hears.
If you could introduce Cecily to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would introduce Cecily to Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind. They could compare notes on how adversity and tragedy make you grow the hell up. Both of them could use all the help they can get.
Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
Medieval Wales doesn’t get a lot of attention despite the fact that it was a complicated, dynamic place. The native rulers managed to resist outright conquest by their English neighbors until 1282-3, but then the victorious English fast-tracked a series of castles and walled towns to maintain control of the area and the people.
What interested me was this question: Even when granted a lot of special privileges - including significant tax breaks - how did English settlers live in a place where they were outnumbered twenty to one by a hostile, recently-subjugated population, and how did the Welsh live so close to people who’d done the subjugating, especially given the burdens placed on them by their new masters?
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m working on several projects right now. One is a companion novel to The Wicked and the Just which follows Maredydd ap Madog, whose father is the ringleader of the rebellion of 1294, as he negotiates the future his father wants for him and the future he wants for himself. Then there’s a standalone book that’s set in twelfth-century Wales about a warband, an abduction, a badly-timed war, a charismatic but mercurial king’s son and a girl who would do about anything for a chance at a normal life.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Take off your filter. That little voice in your head that’s trying to nudge you into being technically correct with your writing, that makes you want to go back and edit as you write. Take off the filter and pour it all out onto the page and accept that you’ll probably junk 90% of it on the next draft. This is where you meet the characters, how she thinks, how he responds. I know some writers who can do this in their heads - and I admire the heck out of them - but for me, voice starts in my head and evolves on the page.
Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
My husband. I don’t even have to call him. He can usually tell by looking at me that I’m upset, and he usually has some candy stashed somewhere to cheer me up.
When was the last time you cried?
The last time I cried was when my grandmother died. My grandmother helped raise me. She taught me to play poker and The weird thing was that I was okay until I saw my mother crying.
What are you most passionate about today?
Right now I’m passionate about living well and balancing the competing demands on my time in a healthy way - building a satisfying creative life, interacting with my family, maintaining my health, working my day job. I’m working on consciously doing things that help me feel better about the world and my place in it one act at a time.
What is the one, single food that you would never give up?
Candy. Particularly jelly beans.
Where can readers stalk you?
I’m very friendly. Don’t be shy about following/friending/commenting!
Cecily’s father has ruined her life. He’s moving them to occupied Wales, where the king needs good strong Englishmen to keep down the vicious Welshmen. At least Cecily will finally be the lady of the house.
Gwenhwyfar knows all about that house. Once she dreamed of being the lady there herself, until the English destroyed the lives of everyone she knows. Now she must wait hand and foot on this bratty English girl.
While Cecily struggles to find her place amongst the snobby English landowners,
Gwenhwyfar struggles just to survive. And outside the city walls, tensions are rising ever higher—until finally they must reach the breaking point.
J. Anderson Coats’ The Wicked and the Just is about the story of two girls in the 13th century at a time when pressure between the English and the Welsh is at full force in English-occupied Wales. Cecily d’Edgeley, the privileged English girl who is forced to move to Caernarvon in Wales, and Gwenhwyfar, the Welsh girl turned-servent who is unmoving to the English intruders, supplies the readers with an insight into a world that has little known historical information. Readers are given a front row seat experience of ancient Wales where the town of Caernarvon is walled, how the native Welsh were treated, and the widespread of food shortage.
J. Anderson Coats has produced a wonderful and well-written novel. The characters are complex, yet realistic and interesting. The meeting of the two girls from two very different worlds is fascinating to read. The personalities J. Anderson brings to her characters is just plain superb. Although Cecily is annoying from the get-go, it is evident that there is much more to her.
The fascination level continues to climb as each page is turned. The fact that readers are delivered with an enthralling story set in a historical period, it was highly engaging and delivered realness throughout. This is a must read for any fans of fantasy fiction. Its history-driven storyline is a nice shift from the normal reads. Readers are treated with a remarkable story laced with historical facts. A definitive must read.
You can purchase The Wicked and the Just at the following Retailers:
And now, The Giveaways.
(Book, Bookmark and Postcard.
3 Winners will receive a Bookmark and Postcard by J. Anderson Coats.a Rafflecopter giveaway